March 5, 2024

America, land of fruits and nuts?

A government-funded study has found that more than half of Americans will develop a mental illness at some time in their lives. This startling statistic is based on a detailed survey of 9,282 people 18 and over which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The most common problems were depression, which affected 17%; alcohol abuse, 13%; and social phobia, 12%. The announcement has kindled a debate amongst psychiatrists over what truly constitutes a mental disorder.

“If I told you that 99% of Americans had a physical illness, you wouldn’t blink an eye,” Dr Ronald Kessler, of Harvard Medical School told the New York Times. “The fact is that there is a very wide range included here, with the equivalent of many psychiatric hangnails. We don’t want to demonise those, but we don’t want to trivialise them either, because we know in many cases they lead to serious problems later on.”

Other psychiatrists were sceptical. “The problem is that the diagnostic manual we are using in psychiatry is like a field guide and it just keeps expanding and expanding,” said Dr Paul McHugh, of Johns Hopkins University. “Pretty soon, we’ll have a syndrome for short, fat Irish guys with a Boston accent, and I’ll be mentally ill.”